When I was writing our AfterEllen.com 2011 TV review, I had to go digging through a whole year’s worth reader comments on recaps, lots of which were all, “I can’t believe you said that one thing about Rachel Berry! I disagree with my whole soul! I hope a meteor explodes down from heaven and hits you in the face!” After reading about one gajillon of those furious quips, I was feeling kind of discouraged and kind of disheartened and so my attitude wasn’t very sparkly when I started watching my Pretty Little Liars winter premiere screener. I was just sort of like, Siiiiigh. Here we go again.
Near the end of the episode, though, I was legitimately sitting six inches away from the TV shouting like a lunatic, and my phone rang and I answered it all, “WHAT!” And it was Shay Mitchell calling for an interview I’d scheduled with her. She said, “Hey Heather, it’s Shay!” And I was like, “Oh my God, why are you phoning me at a time like this? You’re about to get stabbed to death by A! Run! RUUUUUUN!”
‘Cause that’s what this show does to me. It makes me forget I’m supposed to be taking notes or thinking of clever things to write. It makes me forget people want to set me on fire if I don’t say nice things about their favorite character or ship. Heck, most of the time it makes me forget I’m watching a fictional story inside a magic box. It’s like I’m eleven years old, just gasping and wringing my hands and hollering at Emily about, “Stop getting murdered, you gorgeous fool!” And Aria and Spencer about, “What the actual hell are you wearing?!” Or gently caressing Hanna’s face on the screen, because what kind of soulless hell-demon would shout at Hanna?
Luckily, Shay Mitchell is forever warm and gracious, so she laughed at me and told me it was (mostly) going to be OK and she didn’t even hang up the phone.
Also, though, Pretty Little Liars isn’t just enormously (addictively!) entertaining; it’s really smart television. But subversively smart. Quietly smart. By this time in Glee‘s second season, the show was already so off the rails that practically everyone on earth was just hanging around hoping for morsels of Naya Rivera to fall like manna from heaven. And even though Veronica Mars turned in one of the best inaugural seasons of murder-mystery television in the history of the world, it also lost its damn mind in season two.
It’s not an easy thing to frame a TV show with a narrative device and then move that frame along while moving each of the characters’ personal lives along inside it. But Pretty Little Liars is doing it brilliantly. In fact, its trajectory is the exact opposite of Glee. I think Marlene King has made the correct decision to offer up the identity of “A” at the end of this season. It takes the stakes to eleven, makes every moment more delicious and sinister. It’s like one of those word problems in physics class. Like we’re the train leaving the station heading to Rosewood and there’s also a train leaving Rosewood station heading toward us. We’re both going fifty-eleven gazillion miles per hour. When will we meet? The finale. What will happen? A colossal explosion. Guaranteed.
Previously on Pretty Little Liars, “A” buried Annabeth Gish alive in her brown Tory Burch boots and then offered a shovel for the Liars to dig her out of her death pit, except for psyche! — Annabeth Gish was really enjoying a delicious cup of coffee with the Risen Mitten and that shovel was the one hundred percent guaranteed no questions asked absolutely irrefutable unequivocal murder weapon that did the murdering of the murdered Alison DiLaurentis. Definitely. Probably. Most likely. Twenty percent sure.
The penalty for being found with a murder weapon in Rosewood — even if the murder investigation is closed due to Ian’s ghost confessing to the killing like ten months ago — is community service. The Liars are sad-sacking around the highway in orange jumpsuits scowling at each other and stabbing empty soda cans with those trash stick things. Spencer is picking up garbage twice as fast as everybody else, of course, because Spencer doesn’t half-ass anything. Probably she’s going to add it to her college applications: Valedictorian of Litter.
Emily tries to talk to her about some techniques for bartering with A the Rattlesnake, which causes Hanna to throw up her hands and run around in circles screaming about “Snaaaaakes!” Spencer tells Emily to stop saying dumb ideas out loud and Emily says she’ll say all the dumb ideas out loud she wants to, thank you very much, and next thing you know they are pelting garbage at each other and rolling around on the ground like a pair of common hoodlums. Aria stomps her foot all, “You guys!” And Hanna’s over there all, “Snaaaaaakes!” And Aria stomps her foot again: “Stop it!” And Hanna’s still: “Snaaaaakes!”
Officer Garrett watches from his squad car with an evil grin and like a giant tub of movie theater popcorn in his lap.